Even before Thursday night, T-Mobile Arena had become one of Jack Campbell’s favorite places to play.
On Feb. 27, 2018, the Kings goalie made 41 saves against the Vegas Golden Knights to earn his first NHL win. On New Year’s Day last season, he returned from a nearly two-month-long injury absence to post a 46-save gem.
“It’s pretty fun to play here, to be in this city,” Campbell said. “The fans they have, the team that they have, you don’t have to try to psych yourself up.”
That was evident again Thursday. In the Kings’ 5-2 win over the Pacific-Division-leading Golden Knights, Campbell celebrated his 28th birthday with another showstopping performance.
He was gifted a 4-0 lead early, then stood on his head down the stretch, recording a season-high 44 saves inarguably the Kings’ season-best result.
“The puck would hit him and he would just be calmafter that,” coach Todd McLellan said. “Finding the garbage and staying in front of it.”
An 11th overall pick of the Dallas Stars in 2010, Campbell played like one of the league’s best goalies in his first full NHL campaign last season. The long-limbed 6-foot-2, 197-pound goalie ranked third in save percentage (.928) and fifth in goals-against average (2.30). This offseason, he signed a two-year, $3.3-million extension. In training camp, McLellan was repeatedly asked about how he’d manage an ostensibly equal tandem of goalies.
But rather than cementing his status as one of the league’s up-and-comers in net this season, Campbell has struggled to replicate last season’s stellar numbers. Entering Thursday, his save percentage had fallen more than 30 points from last year’s (.894) while his goals-against average had ballooned to 2.92. In 15 starts, he had as many games with four-or-more goals allowed as he did two or fewer.
After starting the majority of Kings games for which he was healthy for in 2018-19, he slipped back into a decidedly second-string role behind Jonathan Quick, who has almost twice as many starts as Campbell this season.
Campbell’s form, he felt, had remained sharp. “Honestly, I feel like I’ve played my game pretty much every single game this season,” he said. But instead of catching fire, he was grappling with frustration.
“I expect to help this team win games, not just be in games,” Campbell said following a 4-3 loss to the Calgary Flames last month, after which he was particularly hard on himself. “All season, I feel like we’ve been pretty resilient, not giving up. But it’s just not acceptable to give up four goals.”
Thursday’s performance was one to enjoy. In the second game of a back-to-back, the Kings cooled off after their quartet of opening-period goals — a pair of point shots from Alec Martinez and Ben Hutton, a high-slot wrister from Tyler Toffoli, and a close-range tap-in from Adrian Kempe 3.7 seconds before intermission.
In the second, they were outshot 24-3, two sneaking past Campbell within a 56-second stretch. In the third, they were on their heels again until Kempe tacked on an insurance goal in the final seconds.
But Campbell was the equalizer, making several sprawling saves and point-blank denials to end the team’s three-game skid.
“Tonight, it looks great on paper, I feel like it was one of my best performances,” Campbell said. “But I feel like there were performances I like better [in which] my numbers were way worse.”
McLellan echoed a similar statement, rejecting the idea his netminder needed aconfidence boost. Thursday, his coach said, was just one of those special games where everything came together.
“Numbers are numbers,” McLellan said. “I don’t know if he needs to turn anything around. He’s played well, and he’s just got to continue to improve.”